Feds to Phase Out Using SS Number for Medicare ID
Would-be thieves will soon have one less avenue to use to snare Social Security numbers.
Medicare has been the odd holdout among health insurance companies in using Social Security numbers as the basis for member IDs — and printing those identifiers right on the insurance card. That ends next year.
Under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, the agency is required to remove Social Security numbers from all Medicare cards by April 2019. Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced plans to begin mailing replacement cards with a new "Medicare Beneficiary Identifier," or MBI, starting in April 2018. During a transition period from April 1, 2018, until Dec. 31, 2019, providers can use either the new MBIs or current SSN-based numbers.
"Most people know the role that Social Security numbers play in identity theft, so this is a welcome move," said Beth Givens, executive director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The consumer advocacy group often receives calls complaining about the inclusion of their SSN on Medicare cards, she said. Some 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud last year, according to a February report from Javelin Strategy & Research. That's up 16 percent from 2015, and the highest figure recorded since the firm began tracking fraud instances in 2004. Access to a Social Security number gives thieves leeway to perpetuate some of the more damaging kinds of fraud, including filing fake tax returns and opening new lines of credit accounts in the victim's name. Such new-account fraud was up 20 percent last year, Javelin found.